Last week, the DPRK announced on state media that it was severing diplomatic relations with Malaysia. The next day, Malaysia followed suit by giving North Korean diplomats and their dependents 48 hours leaving the country of Southeast Asia.
At the heart of the controversy with North Korea is the fate of Mun Chol Myong, a North Korean businessman arrested by Malaysia in May 2019, at the request of the United States, for allegedly evading sanctions. of the United Nations over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. Mun, who has lived in Malaysia since 2008, was charged with several counts of money laundering and money laundering conspiracy.
After getting tired appeal in Malaysian court earlier this month, Mun on March 17 was quietly deported back to the United States, where he would become North Korea first appear in court after being extradited abroad. By agreeing to send him to the US, Malaysia committed an “unforgivable crime,” Pyongyang said.
North Korea has asked the Malaysian government to intervene in court to allow Mun to be released and return to North Korea. They argued that he was involved in legitimate trade and the United States was bullying Malaysia to hand him over.
It was a self-defeating move by North Korea, which has few friends. The communist state, led by Kim Jong Un today, has formal diplomatic relations with more than 160 countries but mostly on paper.
Only 24 countries have embassies in Pyongyang, while North Korea has several dozen diplomatic missions abroad. In addition to serving basic diplomatic functions, Pyongyang’s embassies also have an essential function of purchasing foreign currency, evading sanctions, and purchasing technology and luxury goods for regime.
They are essential sources of funding – largely illegal – for the cash-strapped and constantly punished government in Pyongyang. They have acted as a means of laundering Pyongyang’s famous “super money”, high-quality $ 100 bills, as well as illegal narcotics.
The embassy in Malaysia is no exception. It has long been suspected for both illegal business operations and money laundering. The embassy assists in the marketing of North Korean military communications equipment, among other activities. But most importantly, this embassy is associated with the purchase of communication equipment and computers for Pyongyang.
Mun’s extradition to the US is “very important” because the businessman is “part of Kim Jong Un’s network of illegal activities”, as David Maxwell, expert at the Foundation for the Protection of Democracies, told Radio Free Asia, a sister organization of BenarNews.
And, according to an unsealed indictment in US federal court on March 22, “Mun affiliated with North Korea’s main intelligence organization, the General Department of Reconnaissance, is the subject of sanctions by the United States and the United Nations. “
Assassination year 2017
Malaysia’s embassy shutdown is long overdue.
In 2017, the North Korean agent hired two Vietnamese and Indonesian women to participate in the assassination Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the North Korean dictator, with VX, a nerve agent, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
The use of an internationally prohibited weapon-grade nerve agent on foreign countries is an act of war. While some North Korean spies quickly left the country, the Malaysian government could not take any more active action against embassy staff, including suspects in Kim’s murder, because of Binh. Pyongyang is holding Malaysian diplomats and their dependents there hostage.
Finally, all nine North Korean suspects were able to leave Malaysia. Only two women were arrested and tried, although in both cases, the authorities eventually waste against them.
Although both countries withdrew their ambassadors, diplomatic tension has mostly been printed on paper. So why is Pyongyang escalating the situation as it is now? The overreaction to extradition is speaking up.
The best answer is it demonstrates how important money laundering is for the regime. Mun is an experienced agent with nearly 20 years of experience in money laundering, purchasing luxury items and the technology needed to keep the Kim family in power.
On a personal level, if Mun negotiated a deal with US prosecutors, he could fill in important details for the US government to understand how North Korea financed itself, procured high technology, and hid Avoid sanctions.
But Mun’s extradition is a symbol of greater concern for Pyongyang. North Korea is a criminal country, not only in terms of the popularity of weapons of mass destruction, but also the fact that the country survives through crime.
Over the past few years, North Korea hacker stole about $ 670 million in currency and virtual currency, including $ 81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh. But no cyber fraud is too small.
And the economy has been hit hard. In a speech last October, Kim Jong Un shed tears and acknowledged the remarkable economic downturn, “grave challenges” and “unprecedented disasters”.
What makes avoiding sanctions and importing luxury goods so important to Kim: that is how he buys loyalty to the regime.
The new administration in Washington will need to step up the sanctions if it hopes to force North Korea back to the negotiating table.
Once formidable, with widespread international support, enforcement of international sanctions quickly eased after President Trump’s June 2018 summit with Kim in Singapore.
After the collapse of the Hanoi summit in February 2019, the sanctions regime was never fully restored, with countries like Malaysia all too willing to continue low-level trade exchanges and allowing North Korea to conduct commercial activities.
Meanwhile, the US and China have a host of controversial issues, as raised during a challenging bilateral meeting last week in Alaska. The rival superpowers need to find out what problems they can cooperate with.
However, North Korea is not one of them. Beijing has too much to lose if Pyongyang collapses. That means the United States under the Biden administration has no choice but to target North Korean operations in 45 other countries where their diplomats launder money, sell drugs and impose sanctions.
Expect North Korea to retaliate in the way they know it: through provocations. North Korea has tested its nuclear weapons six times since 2006, including four times during Kim Jung Un’s term. We are likely to see the continuation of the missile test North Korea, scaled back by 2020.
North Korea is a challenge for every US president, and things are unlikely to change for the Biden administration in pushing sanctions against Pyongyang. Countries like Malaysia, where Koreans operate with relative impunity, will be key to enforcing sanctions.
Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.